Friday, February 28, 2014

"Jeter 2... A Boomer View" by Dad

     Well, okay, there was Honus Wagner, who proved you could play shortstop and be an offensive force. But he was before my time… and my father’s… and his father’s. So who played shortstop between Honus Wagner and Derek Jeter?
     For the most part, they were defensive gymnasts – skinny, quick glove men whose offensive shortcomings weren’t just accepted, they were nearly expected.
     In the 50s, a golden era for New York baseball, the reigning shortstops were PeeWee Reese on the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Phil Rizzuto on the Yankees. PeeWee’s nickname says it all when it comes to describing size and power from the shortstop position. (He will, however, always be a giant in the eyes of those of us who care about racial equality, after this Southern guy famously put his arms around his new double play partner in 1947, Jackie Robinson.)
     As for Phil Rizzuto, there isn’t a less deserving player in the Hall of Fame, as much as we loved his play calling later as a Yankee broadcaster.
     In my own baseball-loving New York boyhood, the two reigning shortstops were Bud Harrelson on the Mets and Gene Michaels on the Yankees. Harrelson’s playing weight didn’t much clear 150, and he didn’t bat much more than 100 points above his playing weight. And Michaels’ nickname was The Stick, not because of his bat, but because of his build.
     In the 80s, defense was so prized at the shortstop position that the Cardinals traded the best hitting shortstop of his year, Garry Templeton, to the Padres for the lighter hitting but awesome fielding Ozzie Smith. That Smith ultimately hit as well as he did, and he turned out to be pretty good, was considered to be icing on the shortstop cake.
    So then we had Yount and Ripken, the first wave of shortstops who could hit, but they each were switched from shortstop to other positions by their early 30s.
    Which led to the late 90s Three Amigos – Jeter, Garciaparra, and ARod. Three hard-hitting shortstops who we were told would redefine the position, except that Garciaparra’s career was crippled by injuries and we all know about ARod.
    Which leaves Jeter as the guy who redefined the position – for the ages, and for the future. He proved that a shortstop could be big and strong, and still be quick and durable enough to play the position well, and well into his late thirties. (I’m rooting hard for his turn 40 year).
    More than anyone, it’s been Jeter who’s set the stage for Hanley Ramirez, and beyond Hanley for an amazing new generation that includes names like Starlin Castro, Andrelton Simmons and Jean Segura.        
    And along the way, Jeter has been a role model to warm the heart of every father of boys (yes, including me). Jeter’s is an amazing and important baseball story, and this dad and Met fan will miss him when the season ends.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"2gens Jeter... a millenial view" by CBoh

     Derek Jeter announced that he is retiring at the end of this upcoming season. He is the captain and the last man standing of those dominant Yankee teams of the 1990’s and early 00’s.  As a Mets fan, every bone in my body is programmed to hate everything Yankees. Their holier-than-you attitude, their no facial hair rule, their spoiled fan base and championship or bust mentality. They consistently field very hateable teams, for obnoxious payrolls, to get cheered on by fair weather fans. However, through all that hate, Derek Jeter managed to come out clean. Pretty much the closest thing to a universally respected athlete -- maybe not liked, but respected by all fan bases. He played the game the right way on the field and kept his life incredibly private off the field, no easy feat when you are young, rich, and famous in Manhattan. 
     On the field, he was one of the most clutch players to ever play the game.  The one play that sticks out to me when thinking of Derek Jeter was against the Oakland A’s in during game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.  I forget the exact specifics of the game but will never forget what happened. The right fielder misses his cut off man and Jeter comes out of nowhere from across the field to scoop up the ball along the first base line and blindly throw out Jeremy Giambi at home to save the game and the series.  Even as a Yankee hater, 10 year old me could not have been more impressed.  That was the play every Little Leaguer dreamed of making and practiced in their backyard over and over. Going above and beyond his duties on the field to make a game saving play in a crucial situation -- plays like that made Derek Jeter a very special player and deserving to be called Captain. 
     Off the field Jeter never opened his mouth and give anyone a reason not to like him. He has lived his life the way every person who was thrown into money and fame would dream of living it.  He parties with models but never puts himself in compromising situations. He is respectful and smart with the media. He never talks about himself as a brand like so many athletes do today.  He is a tough guy to not respect both on and off the field. 
     Matt Harvey keeps saying he wants to be the next Derek Jeter in the way he handles the New York media, but in his young career has not handled himself in the Jeter mold, making some questionable decisions with both the marketing of himself and the handling of the media. I dream of Matt Harvey becoming a dominant New York Met for the next decade and to only hear stories of his dominance on the field as we did with Jeter. 
     Jeter announcing his retirement a year early is the first thing he has ever done that I have disliked.  I was sick of the Mariano Rivera retirement saga about two seconds into it, and having to relive another Yankee farewell tour is going to make this baseball season even more miserable. However, if one player deserves a year long celebration of himself, I would concede that Jeter is that man. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Rotisserie Baseball... I Love The 80s" by Dad

     Rotisserie Baseball dates back to about 1981. You may now know of it as fantasy baseball, but more on that later.
     A league called the Universal Baseball Association, or UBA, dates back to 1984.
     I have been playing in the UBA since 1986. So while I won’t claim to have been present at the creation, I was just 3 blocks south and 5 years late. There can’t be more than a couple of hundred guys who have played this fanatical game longer than I have. In fact, I do believe that the UBA founder actually has an aging sheet of paper, laced with the requisite faux self-importance, certifying the UBA as one of the first ten, or dozen, or hundred, rotisserie leagues ever formed, and signed by the game’s inventors.

     A (very) little history first.  The game was named Rotisserie Baseball because it was conceived by a bunch of Manhattan magazine guys (and one woman) at a restaurant called La Rotisserie Francaise. As I recall, it was on Third Avenue at 52nd Street. I worked back then at an advertising agency on Third Avenue and 49th Street.  I don’t think most of us can claim to have heard of this game until 1983, when the founders published a very entertaining rulebook that included a history of their first few seasons. These were, remember, magazine writers and editors.

     Apart from developing the rules, known now by millions, they also created a legacy involving showering the season’s winner with Yoo Hoo, a watery chocolate drink once hawked by Yogi Berra, and oddly clever team names. These were, remember, magazine guys. They were not, however, clever enough to have figured out a way to monetize this huge, game-changing, world-changing creation. They own the rights to the name Rotisserie Baseball, and apparently not much else.  This is why the world at large now plays something called fantasy baseball, no royalties required.

     Fast forward, no doubt on a VHS tape, to 1984. One of my ad agency’s music directors, and a great baseball fan, founds the UBA.  He was also quite well-read, and those who are similarly well-read will already have noted to themselves that The Universal Baseball Association is the title of a terrific Robert Coover novel about a boy who invents… an imaginary baseball game. The original UBA comprised the founder, a couple of other guys in our agency’s creative department, and a bunch of New York studio musicians who had a lot of time on their hands between gigs and sessions. These were very good music guys. One was in one of the incarnations of Blood, Sweat and Tears. Another was in The Knack, but only after “My Sharona.” Still another was one of the great jazz trombonists in New York – sadly, he passed away a few years ago. And one is still in Conan O’Brien’s band.

     None of them are still in the UBA. It is today a league of younger guys whose jobs I’m not really for the most part clear about. I do know that they are ferociously well-informed baseball guys – one is even the editor/director of one of the best fantasy baseball info sites, called Fake Teams. Check it out sometime.

     But I digress, because what I want to do now is describe what playing roto ball was like in the prehistoric, pre-web days.

     First, stats, because this game is nothing if not stats-driven. The bible, small b, was USA Today. This was where we each turned each morning to see how our team had done.  Many of us kept a notebook in which we would update, by hand, our stats for that week. Once a week, we would get a tally of stats from our crack stats service, comprised of standings and roster moves for the week that had actually ended three or four days before this all came in the mail. Or by snail mail as it’s now snidely, snarkily called.

     The other important thing about USA Today was that no claim could be made, or roster move approved, until the player’s or players’ own actual movement had been duly noted in the pages of America’s national newspaper. If you simply heard on the radio that the Reds had called up a catcher from Triple A, you couldn’t act on it until USA Today had published that fact.

     Another thing to note about no ‘net is that the huge amount of information to be found online was actually hard to dig up back then. The game today is one of making good guesses and sound judgments based on a ton of info that everybody has. Back then, proprietary info could be a huge trading advantage.  If you knew that the Padres were thinking of making a change at closer, that was a great piece of intelligence. But how could you get that before it appeared in USA Today or that other key source, The Sporting News? Here’s how: We all surreptitiously hit out-of-town newspaper stands. There was one just north of the main branch of the public library, on 43rd Street just west of Fifth Avenue. Many a rainy night, I dropped ten bucks on papers from places like Cincinnati, Houston, and San Diego.

     And weekend box scores? USA Today didn’t publish on weekends, leaving us all to figure out what local papers were most likely to have even west coast box scores. The New York Times was hopeless, The Post was a little better. The Bergen Record was quite good.

     So now, say you think you have a trading advantage, or simply a need to unload some spare offense for some pitching. How did we trade without email? By phone, of course.  We would close the doors to our offices – yes, we had offices back then – and barter over lunch or between meetings. I would have piles of phone message note sheets with cryptic notations like:
CALLER: The Compozas
MESSAGE: Steve Sax?

     It could have been a message from a music production company, a completely legitimate business hours message in an ad agency. But it wasn’t.

     And when I speak of phones, of course I mean land lines. I have no idea how much of my phone bill went to roto ball trades, or how many quarters I dropped into pay phones. But I do believe that pay phones were no less important to roto ball players than they were to Superman.

      Today, the game is a web-based information extravaganza, and that happy fact is what has kept me playing. It’s also of course why fantasy sports have exploded. There aren’t ten million maniacs willing to walk in the New York rain to buy an Atlanta newspaper.